Brandon Valley’s run to Saturday’s Class AA basketball finals stirred memories of the magical season of 1997-98, when the Lynx captured their last state title.
That tourney was held in Rapid City, and the Lynx were considered a strong contender along with two-time defending champion Mitchell, led by current NBA standout Mike Miller.
Spearfish, led by Shane Burnison and Kelby Klosterman, was also in the hunt along with Mike Begeman’s O’Gorman squad, paced by 6-foot-8 senior center Seth Ahrendt.
Austin Hansen, a senior sharpshooter who is now a South Dakota State assistant coach, had already led Brandon Valley past Mitchell twice during the regular season.
Hansen and his teammates rocked the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in the semifinals by knocking off the Kernels again, with senior Chad Kriech taking a pass from Hansen and hitting the game-winning 3-pointer.
“I think that says a lot about the kind of player and the kind of person Austin is,” Brandon Valley coach Brad Thorson said after the game. “He’s a real team player. All of our seniors are like that. I just can’t say enough about them.”
Brandon Valley’s championship foe was O’Gorman, which had knocked off Spearfish in the other semifinal and was seeking its first-ever state title, just like the Lynx.
But the Knights ran into BV senior Joe Ford, who scored 21 points and hit the game-winning 3-pointer with a minute left as the Lynx beat O’Gorman 63-58 for the championship.
“He had a certain look in his eye. He was very focused,” Thorson said of Ford that night. “He was ready to play.”
Trailing 36-25 at halftime, Brandon Valley pressed its way back into the game and cut the margin to three points on a three-point play by Hansen late in the third quarter.
Beau Fitts made one of two free throws to start the fourth quarter to make it 49-47, but O’Gorman was able to hold off the Lynx for the next five minutes by making eight straight free throws.
Brandon Valley tied the game for the first time when Hansen stole the ball and drove in for a layup to make it 57-57. The Knights took their final lead on a free throw with 2:05 to go.
After Ford’s big shot, O’Gorman’s Mike McCarty, who finished with 22 points, missed at the other end and Ford grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made one of two shots with 34.5 seconds left. The Knights still had a chance to tie if they could hit a 3-pointer, but they turned the ball over and the Lynx held on.
Hansen, who also finished with 21 points, was named Argus Leader player of the year over Miller, a McDonald’s All-American who was one of the most sought-after college recruits in the nation before choosing the University of Florida.
“I’m not always the best player on the court,” said Hansen, who went on to star at SDSU. “But when I go out there, nobody is going to outplay me.”
Also playing a role in the triumph were the Brandon Valley fans, who came out in full force (and full throat) to cheer their team during the three-day tournament.
“Make sure this gets in the newspaper: Brandon Valley has the best fans in the state,” Kriech shouted after the championship game.